The Ripple Effect

Robin Schmidt and Kaitlin Boyer are creating opportunities for the next generation of female anglers. Photo by Kaitlin Boyer

The Ripple Effect

CMC fly fishing guide grads create opportunities for the next generation of female anglers

Fly fishing is having a moment. Historically, fly fishing has been a male dominated sport, but that’s changing. Women are now the fastest growing demographic in fly fishing and as more outdoor enthusiasts discover the joys of fly fishing, the need for qualified guides grows as well.

Students in the Professional Fly Fishing Guide program at Colorado Mountain College Leadville are discovering career opportunities for fly fishing guides are as abundant as trout in the gold medal waters of the Arkansas River.

Evidence of the shift towards females is apparent in this spring’s fly fishing guide classes. This year, seven women are registered for the college’s fly fishing guide program. For the past two years, there has been just one full-time female student each session. In a program with an instructor-to-student ratio around 1:10, a 700% increase in female applicants is a revolutionary change.

More Women on the Water

Sonja Villalobos Fly Fishing Guide scholarship recipient
Sonja Villalobos was awarded one of the fly fishing tuition scholarships.

This push for women in fly fishing didn’t happen organically. It took the dedication of two graduates, Kaitlin Boyer and Robin Schmidt. Kaitlin and Robin were the only full-time females enrolled in the fly fishing guide program in 2017 and 2018. As a result, they’ve spent the last year working tirelessly to increase the program’s female enrollment numbers through various fundraising efforts and scholarship opportunities.

“Women bring new and very different possibilities to the sport and the industry,” says Robin, “One of the most rewarding things about being a woman in the outdoor industry is meeting other women who are totally awesome at what they do.”

In 2017, Kaitlin completed CMC’s guide program and became a professional fly fishing guide. She quickly discovered the need for female guides and became the personal cheerleader for women that showed an interest in fly fishing—including Robin.

Nikki Lynick fly fishing women scholarship
Naketa Lynick was the recipient of the Orvis gear scholarship and the tuition scholarship.

Last year, Robin found herself back in school, enrolled in CMC’s intensive six-week program, designed to fast-track graduates to guiding careers. The 56-year-old former software engineer struggled to connect with her peers, who were six 20-something-year-old guys. She wished to be able to share this challenging and motivating experience with another woman.

Robin is a contributor for Dun Magazine, a female fly angler lifestyle magazine created for women and edited by women. She wrote about taking the leap into the fly fishing industry, leaving behind her established career, and reinventing herself through CMC’s fly fishing guide school. Her articles have inspired hundreds of women to get out on the water – including some of the students currently enrolled in the program.

“I learned about Colorado Mountain College and the fly fishing guide program through Dun Magazine,” says Naketa Mauricette Lynick, a fly fishing guide student from Yorktown, Virginia. “The article featured Robin and Kaitlin’s personal experiences in the program and how they yearned to connect with other women.”

Female Fly Fishing Scholarships

Robin and Kaitlin wanted to go beyond bringing awareness to gender disparity on the water. They partnered with the CMC Foundation and Orvis’ 50/50 On the Water Initiative to create a series of scholarships for women. They solicited donations through their personal blogs, Instagram accounts and Facebook pages, raising enough funds for two scholarships.

“Fly fishing has changed my life,” says Sonja Villalobos, who was awarded one of the scholarships, “It has given me this sense of inner peace that I really can’t put into words. It has allowed me to learn more about myself and what I am capable of doing. I want to give that same feeling to someone—which is why I am here!”

Cookie Hooper was the recipient of the Orvis gear scholarship.
Cookie Hooper was the recipient of the Orvis gear scholarship.

Orvis made a very generous in-kind donation, which includes two gear packages valued at $2300 each, consisting of a Helios 3-rod outfit, women’s ultralight waders, women’s ultralight wading boots, a women’s PRO wading jacket and a 50/50 On the Water hat and t-shirt.

“Having the proper equipment is everything,” says Naketa, a recipient of the gear scholarship. “I am confident learning, exceeding and completing the program. Not only will I have the proper training and certification to work as a professional guide, but thanks to Orvis, I also have the appropriate equipment, gear and accessories.”

Colleen “Cookie” Hooper, a 52-year-old Realtor from Arvada, plans to utilize her skills to pursue her passion for volunteering with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a non-profit dedicated to the rehabilitation of disabled active military service personnel and disabled veterans.

“The scholarship has provided me with the very best gear,” says Cookie, the second recipient of the Orvis gear scholarship, “Orvis thoughtfully created these waders, boots and jacket to fit a woman. They thought of things that matter to women like hip-to-waist ratios, getting giant neoprene feet into wading boots, looking good on the water and every component being functional.”

Guiding Generations

When women support each other, incredible things happen. Women like Robin and Kaitlin are changing the world of fly fishing by creating opportunities for other women to get on the water. It’s a ripple effect. The next generation of CMC-trained professional fly fishing guides are committed to keep these efforts going.

“50/50 means equality,” says Naketa, “It’s having the discipline and tenacity to get up, get out and make a positive impact, not just as an individual but as a community of anglers and guides.”